Archive for April, 2007

Singapore

Walking down the street you get hit with the smell of incense, burning in pots against the side of the road while Chinese youth are eating Malay food while mixing with Indian immigrants. Across the street the celebration of Vesak Day brings a flood of worshipers to the Buddhist temple, looking to continue their old traditions and celebrate Buddha’s birth; next door to a Hindu temple that is quiet until activity rages around Deepavali. Walking this area you hear the smattering of languages, of which English is not the majority, and you see, feel, and hear the pulse of old Singapore and a cross-section of Asia. Go further and you start to see the entrepreneurs, the independent shop stall owners hawking their wares, lined up along the street or under the large tent. And again, you see that a lot in Asia, people starting to take those risks and strike out on their own, stepping away from the safety nets of working for someone. A little further and you get to the gleaming shopping malls, the consumer-oriented, ultra-modern stores that rival or surpass any malls in the US or elsewhere.

Seattle

Rain. Gray skies… chilled weather. Damp. Walking through a drizzle in the blue hooded sweatshirt I wore everyday, the one where I can hear the zipper bouncing against my hip – a friend always referred to it as my “80’s jacket.” All the bars I liked were dive bars, I’d walk in for their 11 pm happy hours and cut through the cigarette smoke and feel a wave of relief and letting go when I’d see my friends sitting there. Have a drink or two while talking about the random stupid stuff that happens in everyone’s life – and it feels comfortable, a sense of belonging. After a couple drinks, I look around and though it’s like any other group of 20-somethings huddled together in a bar, I feel potential, that any one of these friends I’m with have the ability to do something incredible, and perhaps it’s even me. And those thoughts are strong enough to have me leave with a smile. And even though it’s raining, cold, and bleak there’s still the feeling that Seattle is an unbelievable place.

ReadyBoost using any USB stick

Just filing this away for a rainy day… if you’re using Windows Vista you can take advantage of the ReadyBoost feature.  Plugging in a USB memory stick (or SD / Memory Stick /etc.) will supplement the main system memory with the amount of flash memory on the stick.  However, it has been limited to work with only the high-speed USB sticks.

Windows Vista Magazine brings us a nice tweak on how to Use any USB stick to ReadyBoost your computer.

Lime Juice Night Safari

Tonight I went to the Night Safari. I’m a big fan of the night safari. Been there 10 times at least.

They have made a lot of changes in the past year. Since me and my friend from Taiwan had not eaten dinner, I thought why not eat at the Night Safari? It has a pleasant atmosphere and one can get a smattering of local dishes.

Admission fee is 20 sgd. That seems reasonable.
If you want the tram ride, that will be an additional 8 sgd. Ok, it’s a 45 minute ride and is worth it. The commentators are wonderful.

Feeling hungry? A chicken rice set will set you back 16 sgd. A little pricy, almost crossing the line to price gouging, but… because it is a tourist attraction, I can understand a high price.

Thirsty as well?

EIGHT DOLLARS FOR A GLASS OF LIME JUICE.

WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?!?!? 8 DOLLARS FOR A SMALL GLASS OF LIME JUICE. LIME JUICE. LIMEEEEEEEEEEE JUIIIIIICCCCCCCEEEEEEE.

It’s not beer, it’s not wine, it’s not some fancy fruit cocktail. It’s lime juice.

For a second I forgot I was at the Night Safari. I thought I was at a Sim Lim shop getting fleeced because of my foreign accent. Except the difference was that I couldn’t hope to bargain the price down.

I consider myself a staunch supporter of the Night Safari. So when something like this happens, it makes me feel disillusioned and disappointed with the tourist attraction. I can understand charging higher prices – the advantage of being out there in the middle of nowhere, providing a unique sight for visitors, etc. but they’ve overshot with the price. So high that it probably discourages people coming back multiple times – at least for the food. I definitely won’t be eating there again.

And it’s not because I’m cheap – it’s because I don’t like being figuratively kicked in the stomach and robbed.

On another note, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, also at the Night Safari is 4.50 sgd for a scoop. Reasonable!

If airlines were Southeast Asia travel options

Ok, I know I vented a little bit on the previous post regarding Lufthansa and how poor they are compared to Singapore Airlines.  Now I’m going to proceed to vent some more – perhaps this one will be more appealing to those of you who prefer visuals.

Singapore Airlines
 
This encompasses the Singapore Airlines experience.  No hurry, perfectly fine to dawdle.  You’re comfortable, soaking in the environment… lollygagging away watching their movies, listening to music, eating the delicious meals… simply letting time sail by you before you get to your next destination.  Ah, who knew the skies could be so peaceful?

Lufthansa

Ok, it’s rather crowded, but at least the people are nice.  We’ll get through this.  Everyone just keep smiling – we’re in it together.  Note baby on the right side that will start screaming when we start moving.

Any US Airline (except JetBlue)
 
Sardines in a can.  No one is happy except for the jerk (attendant) at the front of the vehicle.  Simply because he’s paid to work on this thing while the rest of us paid to be crammed into it.  Are we there yet?  My rear hurts.  And the person next to me keeps touching me.  There’s no food.  I hate you.

Another reason for Singapore Airlines
 
I love you.

Singapore Airlines vs. The World

On my flight from Paris back to Singapore, I realize just how much I do like Singapore Airlines. I’m flying on one of their new Boeing 777-ER’s. Finally, an airline that has ordered a plane designed for a passenger’s comfort and not just to transport people in the sky like cattle. Herd them in and lock them up seems to be the regular mentality, but with Singapore Airlines, even the economy class borders on being enjoyable.

Compare Singapore Airlines to another Star Alliance carrier, Lufthansa. I flew Lufthansa from Washington DC to Frankfurt (en route to Paris last week). That was one of the worst flights of my life. The service was fine but every other aspect was terrible. The seats were designed for people smaller than even me – and this is by a country whose people are known for their heft. I don’t know what they were thinking. No matter how you sit, your shoulders and arms will still be bumping into your neighbor. There is no sense of your own space, the seats are so small that you are squeezed into your neighbor’s space (and vice-versa). Terribly uncomfortable and impossible to sleep. It really does make one feel like just an animal in a cage.

Singapore Airlines – WIDESCREEN tv monitor at each seat. Fantastic entertainment selection (I’m listening to a custom playlist of audio tracks I built from the 100s of albums they have in their system) and I’ve watched 4 movies on this flight so far. Again, contrast that with Lufthansa where you get… one tiny monitor at the front of the cabin that everyone has to strain to see. Pick a movie? Fast forward or rewind? Get real.

So yes, I love Singapore Airlines (and this is without even getting into their stellar food and flight attendants). I feel bad for other airlines because they can’t be Singapore Airlines. I feel bad for other airlines that they can’t even come close. I especially feel bad for other airlines if they don’t at least aspire to be like Singapore Airlines.

——–

Ok, that’s enough effusive praise for now.

On this flight I am sitting in the last row – with two seats all to myself. Sitting right in front of the area where people can stand and relax as well as wait in line for the bathroom.

The bad thing about watching tearjerker movies is that all these strangers milling about and waiting for the bathroom glance over and see you trying to blink away the tears. How embarrassing.

(Even more embarrassing is that this is from watching Adam Sandler’s “Click.” Damn movies where they promote it as a comedy and it turns into a drama… gets me every time – i.e. “The Break Up”).

——–

A 12 hour flight to Singapore. I would do this in a heartbeat over another 7 hour flight with Lufthansa.

Oh – and a note to Delta and the other bankrupt airlines… you’re going bankrupt for a reason. Primarily because you guys suck even more than Lufthansa.

Life?

I hope I’m in stage two.

 

(Unknown source)

Know your rights before renting out your home

From today’s Straits Times:

MOST Singaporeans aspire to own the roof over their head but those with spare cash can go a step further – buy an extra property and become a landlord.

These investors hope to get a steady stream of rental income while waiting for their properties to rise in value in the rebounding market.

It sounds simple enough but as they always say, ‘the devil is in the details’.

Any experienced landlord will tell you that it pays to do some homework before leasing out your property. This includes knowing your responsibilities and rights as a landlord and drawing on the experiences of others when it comes to picking the ‘perfect’ tenant.

Disputes between landlords and tenants can be very frustrating with most revolving around repair and rental payment matters. Unlike countries such as Britain, where there are tenancy tribunals to assist in such disputes, Singapore does not have such a body and engaging a lawyer is invariably costly.

So it pays to have a watertight tenancy agreement that spells out both parties’ obligations and ensures there is little or no ambiguity when disputes arise.

TIPS FOR LANDLORDS

Letter of intent

THIS is usually prepared by the housing agent and should contain certain key details. Check for the correct address of your rental property, the term of the lease, notice period, rent and deposit amounts.

It should be signed by the landlord and the tenant. The rental deposit is collected at this point. The agreement is typically signed a fortnight from the date of the letter of intent. If not, the landlord stands to retain the deposit.

In Singapore, the letter of intent is not mandatory and there are parties that choose to enter into tenancy agreements directly.

Tenancy agreement

AS THE tenancy agreement is a legal contract, it will include all terms and conditions necessary to protect the rights of both the landlord and tenant.

If the rental property is mortgaged to a bank, the landlord must get the bank’s nod for leasing the property.

The agreement should include the names and identification numbers of the landlord and tenant and, if relevant, the name and address of any company paying the tenant’s rent directly.

It should be clear on the rental amount, when it is due and how it can be paid – say, through a Giro arrangement.

A tenancy usually runs for one to three years with renewal options for an extended period and that should be stated. The notice period for renewal or termination is typically three months before the tenure expires.

The agreement should also spell out the respective responsibilities of the landlord and tenants.

There should be an ‘escape’ clause allowing the landlord to sell the property during the tenancy to a buyer who may want to purchase without tenancy.

The landlord should reserve the right to bring prospective buyers to view the property at reasonable hours and by prior appointment.

Like the letter of intent, both the landlord and the tenant sign the tenancy agreement and the document is stamped at a lawyer’s office.

Depending on the tenure and rental amount, the stamp duty – payable by the tenant – may cost a few hundred dollars. It must be paid within 14 days of the date of agreement, after which a penalty is payable to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

Sizing up prospective tenants

WHEN asked what constitutes a ‘perfect’ tenant, most landlords agree on two criteria – paying rent promptly and keeping the property clean.

Try to assess the financial standing of the tenant by inquiring about his profession. Get his business card and verify if he is really an employee of the firm indicated. Find out where he is moving from and the reasons for the change.

If the tenant is a company, the landlord should run a check on it. If it is a two-dollar firm, then he should insist that the tenant provide a guarantor, or guarantors, or ask for a larger deposit.

It is harder to verify if the tenant has the ability to look after your property.

Still, it is useful to pay attention to the tenant’s general grooming and, if he owns a car, how well kept it is.

Check employment status

LANDLORDS should also ensure the premises are not rented to illegal immigrants.

If tenants are work permit or employment pass holders, they should check with the authorities that the permits and passes are valid and not forged, said Ms Lie Chin Chin, the managing director of law firm Characterist LLC.

Take snapshots

MS LIE also recommends that landlords take photographs of the premises before the tenancy starts. ‘In case the tenant fails to return the premises in tenantable condition at the end of the tenancy, these will serve as evidence to claim for damages for rectification works,’ she said.

Ask for references

DO NOT hesitate to ask for a few references just to check if there are people who are willing to vouch for the tenant.

lorna@sph.com.sg

The onions in Paris

I love steak tartar. Lunch, dinner, afternoon snack, supper… anytime I walk by a restaurant and see it listed on a signboard, I order it.

Plate du jour – Steak Tartar!

It’s delightful and delicious. The vivid red of it, speckled with onions and capers. If you get lucky, served with a raw egg on top (and you can mix it in later). A glass of red wine enhances it even more.

The problem with too much steak tartar lies in the onions. They make you smell. Not a smell that you can wash away either. The smell of onions emanate from all your pores.

Gross, yes. Disgusting, I know. Still scrumptious? Most certainly.

Paris, Je T’aime.

Pour vous, le monde

Early morning, before the sunrise. Outside my window lies American suburbia. The yard, sidewalk, street, a row of houses, and then towering trees behind them. I like Florida.

It’s quiet at this hour, quieter than the Singapore city centre ever gets. In my sleep deprived state I find this attractive. The streets are empty, an American wasteland. Like I could walk out, peek into everyone’s house and take over the neighborhood.

I half expect an army of zombies to come marching down the street.

I leave Florida in a few hours. Have a layover in Washington DC, the trans-Atlantic flight to Frankfurt, and then a connecting flight to Paris, France. Dropping me off there at 10 am on the morning of the 13th.

Air travel still amazes me, it’s as if I’m time warping somewhere. Board the silver tube in Orlando, and aside from a few stops where I will jostle around with other passengers, I go from my American suburbia to Paris. Wheeling my suitcase on cobblestone streets, avoiding the infamous doggy-doo the city is known for. Fumbling with my high school French all the while.

I have no grand plans for what to do in Paris, in fact, I plan to do very little. Aim low, I say! 3 days of wandering around by myself, scenes from Amelie and Before Sunset scatter through my head. However, meeting a quirky charming French girl or having a rambling talk with an old flame probably won’t happen.

I will be satisfied to do:
– Have a coffee
– Eat steak tartar
– Stand outside Notre Dame cathedral (this should be easy, my hotel is 1 block from there)
– Walk along the Seine river
– Go to the Louvre

Pour vous, le monde.